Michael Jordan did make a serious mistake when he went to that casino in Atlantic City. The mistake was that he didn't take his teammates with him.
If ever there was a group that needed a night off, a diversion, it's Jordan's uptight, teetering teammates on the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan is getting shelled from the peanut gallery because the Bulls lost the next night, with Mike missing 11 of 16 second-half shots, to fall behind 2-0 to the New York Knicks in their Eastern Conference finals.
The shelling is inappropriate. Unfair.
Did you watch Game 2? Jordan scored 36 points. The other Bulls scored 55. Anyone inventive enough to pin the blame on Jordan is indulging in fancy fiction.
Jordan did shoot poorly in the fourth quarter, leading to the speculation that his night at the casino tired him, but that's pure balder--. There's a lot more to the game than shooting, and the fact is that Jordan's defense, passing and presence led the Bulls back from a 12-point deficit to within one at the end.
Besides, Jordan has been shooting poorly since he hurt his wrist in the Bulls' previous playoff series, against Cleveland. There's your real explanation.
Jordan's night out had absolutely no impact on the game. The Bulls didn't lose because of him. They never lose because of him. They lose because it's impossible for him to carry his utterly average teammates every night, particularly against a tough, hungry team, such as the Knicks.
Let's face it, the miracle is that the Bulls ever won one title, much less two. Magic Johnson won with Kareem and Worthy and other five-star players. Larry Bird won with McHale and DJ and Cornbread. Jordan has one player to pass to, Scottie Pippen, who is mentally fragile and distinctly overrated. Hey, the Bulls would be the Bullets without Jordan. No superstar has won more with less. It's the truest measure of his peerless talent.
They're losing to the Knicks because they're a two-man team and the Knicks are intimidating Pippen right out of the series. Pippen, who got ejected from Game 2, is the player Jordan really needed to take along to the casino. The man needs to relax and get it together. The Bulls have no chance otherwise.
The Knicks also have succeeded in distracting the Bulls with their toughness. Coach Phil Jackson and the Bulls are complaining miserably, acting as if some sacred postulate is being violated. Please.
They're just choking on their superiority complex. Nowhere is it written that the game must be played as the Bulls want. They just aren't doing what it takes to win.
Yet now Jordan's night out has become Topic A of the playoffs. It's silly.
This guff about the gambling hurting his and the NBA's image -- spare me. Anyone moralizing about it must be living in a tomato can. Like it or not, gambling is part of our society. How do you think Camden Yards got built, church donations? It was built with lottery money.
And this business about Jordan, who has been caught in high-stakes stuff before, having a "gambling problem" -- how can you say that? He obviously likes a wager, but what's the definition of a problem? Jordan certainly isn't betting his mortgage money. He is betting money he can afford to lose in a blink. Big deal.
Maybe it's true he would make a better role model if he spent his off nights in prayer sessions or movie houses instead of casinos. But we have no right to judge. He's just an incredibly rich guy who, like anyone else, can do whatever he wants in his free time as long as it isn't illegal, doesn't endanger anyone else and doesn't affect his performance.
Jordan is innocent on all counts.
He's a grown man, a doting father; he doesn't throw beer in restaurants or spit on kids. Considering the microscope under which he lives, the error-less life he must lead, he comes off as a pretty decent role model.
Anyone complaining about his night out just doesn't understand the life athletes lead. It bears no resemblance to your life or mine. They play their games at night. They stay up late, real late, often until 3 a.m. There's nothing to do the next day, no reason to get up, always plenty of time to sleep no matter what the night-owl diversion. Whether Jordan was in the casino until midnight or 2 a.m. is irrelevant. Either way, he didn't have a game to play for another 18 or 20 hours.
What was he supposed to do, pull an Air Van Winkle and sleep for 15 hours?
The bottom line is that he was at the shoot-around the next morning, played his heart out that night and broke no laws.
He did nothing wrong.
Just forgot to call Scottie on the way out the door.